Thackeray movie review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui powers Abhijit Panse's propaganda-laden film

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Jan 25, 2019 14:19:47 IST


Imagine taking the most quotable quotes, maybe taking some creative license to embellish them a bit and handing the persona to a searing talent such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Just imagine.

In Thackeray, Siddiqui wraps himself into the polarising politician’s credo as snugly as the saffron shawl that hangs off Bal Keshav Thackeray’s shoulders.

Siddiqui fills the frame right from his entry into a courtroom dock, where Thackeray is under-trial for instigating the demolition of Babri Masjid. He stays in character even as the younger man back in 1960 who quit his job as a cartoonist with a newspaper to launch his own weekly journal, Marmik.

Director Abhijit Panse uses black and white images to denote the past and colour to bring us into the 1990s, intercutting with the court case, which becomes a means for Thackeray to clearly establish his stance on democracy, communalism and violence.

 Thackeray movie review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui powers Abhijit Panses propaganda-laden film

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Bal Thackeray in the biopic. Youtube screengrab.

Is 130 minutes to tell the story of one of the tallest figures in Maharashtra politics? Perhaps not, because (Shiv Sena politician and editor of the party mouthpiece Saamana) Sanjay Raut’s script pauses the biopic in 1995 with Manohar Joshi becoming Chief Minister and three portentous words: ‘To be continued…’

Great attention has been paid to period detailing and populating the frame with key players in local and national politics (although I could bet the brand of beer Thackeray is shown consuming did not exist in the 1980s). There’s a wonderful scene with Indira Gandhi, a sideways snub at barrister Rajni Patel and some incredibly discomforting scenes that advocate violence, especially against outsiders.

Raut’s most indicting comment is against the impotency of the police that flip-flops, is often shown to be complicit with the most powerful group or stifled by government diktat.

Thackeray and his workers are unabashed about taking matters in their hands. Might is right, even when it comes to promoting Dada Kondke’s movie Songadiya over Dev Anand’s Tere Mere Sapne. As he watches the poster of the Hindi movie being lowered, Thackeray tells the injured cinema hall owner, “Pehle mere sapne phir tere sapne” (My dreams first, then yours). Amar Mohile’s background music underscores the emotions and Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography gives the writer’s polarising vision some depth.

At many points while watching Thackeray, I felt uneasy at the propaganda-laden script with its attacks on migrants, majoritarianism view and endorsement of bullying and violence in the guise of nationalism and social service. In one scene, as he speaks to a troubled Muslim family that suffered during the Mumbai riots, the camera pans over a tiger sculpture and, even as Siddiqui speaks, a roar is built into the background music.

We only see moments of Thackeray’s vulnerability in his time spent with his wife Meena (Amrita Rao). Otherwise he’s the cricket-loving, beer-drinking, pipe and cigar smoking, roaring 'tiger' who can stop cricket matches and call his soldiers to take up arms if required, someone who is single-minded in his political agenda.

Sadly there is very little focus on his children or even his impact as an artist. The timeline of Thackeray is conveniently engineered to delete the unflattering, the sensitive and the problematic mandate. What remains are elements that buoy up the founder of the Shiv Sena and paint him in resplendent saffron. The colour-agnostic are likely to find this portrait as fascinating as it is disturbing.

Rating: 2

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 14:21:54 IST